February 25, 2024

This week, I got a pitch for limited-edition versions of Augustinus Bader’s The Cream and The Rich Cream, a very expensive moisturiser encased in a “collectable chrome vessel.” The metallic tubes were conceptualised by Haider Ackermann, a fashion designer who helms his own line and was tapped earlier this year to guest design a couture collection for Jean Paul Gaultier. Ackermann’s signature — scrawled in blue so as to be cohesive with the line’s recognisable branding — runs down the length of each tube.

In honour of the skin care brand’s fifth anniversary (has it only been five years?), the Colombian-born designer created packaging that will be sold alongside a refill of a full-size 50 ml cream. The Ackermann version costs $565 and goes on sale Oct. 4 on augustinusbader.com. (The brand will later introduce refillable packaging to its lineup, according to Charles Rosier, co-founder of Augustinus Bader. Don’t expect too much of a price break, though. Rosier said savings will be in the range of $5 to $10.) It’s not the first time Augustinus Bader has teamed up with a designer. In 2019, the brand created a $210 cell rejuvenating priming moisturiser with Victoria Beckham Beauty, whose line didn’t include any skin care.

For luxury skin care specifically, I find the fashion crossover an interesting strategy. Beauty and fashion, while separate industries, consistently share a customer; their paths run parallel, and sometimes they converge, more often in makeup than in skin care.

It makes sense: most of the time, makeup is something you can see, and shades can be tailored to a designer or brand’s specific collection or season. Ulla Johnson and Bobbi Brown released their first limited edition collection of lipstick and eyeshadow in 2019; E.l.f. Beauty launched makeup and skin care with American Eagle outfitters in March and MAC Cosmetics has a long history of co-creating makeup with designers, Richard Quinn being among the most recent.

Skin care remains more siloed, which is why it’s unusual for Augustinus Bader – a line that sits at the highest end of the skin care spectrum with La Mer, La Prairie, Sisley and newcomers like Eighth Day, which this week announced an investment from L Catterton — to work with a designer in this capacity. I can’t imagine La Prairie, or any of the above for that matter, making a co-branded product with a fashion brand. These skin care labels are precious about their cutting-edge innovations, “backed by science” formulas, proprietary complexes and ingredients, luxe packaging and more. A designer or brand would only take away from these perceived attributes.

I wonder who this collaboration is for. I’m not sure that the Bader customer, who is likely a high fashion shopper already, is running to buy a limited-edition Haider Ackermann bottle. The consensus is that The Cream and The Rich Cream are really good products, no one is disputing that.

In this case, does the fashion give the skin care more cachét or vice versa?

Generally, a collaboration should do two things. It should take participating brands to a place they previously had no access to, whether that’s notoriety or audience exposure, and it should bring something new to the table. A good collaboration does that for both parties.

There’s a few reasons why Augustinus Bader and Haider Ackermann may have decided to link up. The collaboration could be a revenue driver for Augustinus Bader, or a marketing tool for both parties, similar to paid influencer partnerships, seeding or digital advertising. Maybe it will prove an effective way for a beauty brand to stand out during fashion month, a time when beauty (skin care especially) takes a backseat to clothes and accessories. For both parties, this sort of product drop is sure to be a “newsier” moment than a backstage beauty look. Co-branded products could also be a vehicle for fashion lines to dabble in (or test) beauty without creating their own beauty labels, which require substantial capital and resources. A designer can borrow brand equity from an established name in beauty.

But the Ackermann collaboration isn’t about the sales.

Rosier told me that just 2,000 units were produced. If every bottle sells out, which is likely, it will yield $1.13 million in sales (a percentage of this is sure to go to Ackermann, too). This isn’t nothing, but for a brand that was reportedly on track to hit $200 million in retail sales this year, it doesn’t really move the needle. Still, as the rich only get richer, Augustinus Bader’s designer strategy could be a way for the line to push up its prices in the long run and align itself more firmly with the one percent.

Augustinus Bader is in it for the media coverage.

“You’ve seen the dinner to celebrate it in New York…nobody was paid to come to the dinner. That dinner got a lot of coverage,” Rosier said of the event at Salon 94, where Ackermann, Kylie Jenner and Timothée Chalamet were present. “Maybe if it was just a silver vessel without the collaboration of Haider for sure we would have gotten less coverage and less interest. It’s two people joining forces.”